May 19, 2003 - Daily Citizen: PCV Carrie Cooper works to help rebuild a child care system in Romania

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Romania: Peace Corps Romania : The Peace Corps in Romania: May 19, 2003 - Daily Citizen: PCV Carrie Cooper works to help rebuild a child care system in Romania

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PCV Carrie Cooper works to help rebuild a child care system in Romania

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Mayville woman trying to make life better for Romanian children*

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Mayville woman trying to make life better for Romanian children

By SARAH GUDMANSON - Staff Reporter

May 19, 2003

MAYVILLE- For thousands of Romanian children, there is no reason to smile, speak or contemplate the future. They can't fathom these things because the only life they have ever known is institutionalization.

Carrie Cooper, a Mayville High School graduate and member of the Peace Corps, is currently working in Romania to do away with institutions and help rebuild a child care system within the country that will free these children from the institutions and get them the help they need.

Cooper, who joined the Peace Corps last February, is now back in Mayville for a two week stay. Also with Cooper is Otto Sestak, External Relations Coordinator for Hope and Homes for Children Romania. Together they hope to educate the community about their work and the needs of the children in Romania.

Each institution in Romania holds around 200 children, according to Stestak and Cooper. For those 200 children, there is one person assigned to every 30 to 40 kids. The result is lack of stimulation, neglect and abuse.

"You just look at the children and you don't know where to start. Their eyes are so blank and they are not used to human contact," Cooper said as she recalls her first visit to an institution.

"A lot of these children will beat themselves. Excuse the term, but they will beat the hell out of themselves... They have to feel something," Cooper told the Mayville Rotary Club, which is interested in the program as a possible project.

And that is not the worst she has seen. There are children that have been physically deformed from years of wearing straight jackets or being tied down in a certain way. There are also children who stare at her blankly, unaware of their surroundings and children who stimulate themselves by moving their fingers in front of their faces.

"Its not that the staff is all bad, but they have been institutionalized themselves," Cooper said.

Although some of what she sees is horrifying and depressing, Cooper has a way of keeping her work in perspective.

"Obviously, if I've been there a year, I am not focusing on the bad stuff. I focus on the good stuff."

And there are things she is able to celebrate.

"I have a favorite little girl in the institution. From the first day I saw her she melted my heart," she said, indicating that hepatitis had made the girl's stomach so swollen she remained on her back, unable to walk. Before she left, the girl took her first step towards Cooper.

Cooper and Sestak have opened group homes where children will be cared for on a one to one basis.

"The first group home that I helped open was like my baby and my parents mailed me fleece blankets," Cooper said.

Currently, HHC Romania is working on educating the Romanian public and creating a better value system.

"We are working on the family concept to help prevent abandonment, create foster care, family integration and to help teach young mothers," Sestak said.

Their work is going to be the model for the entire country, according to Sestak, who says that the project will probably take about 10 years to complete.

Sestak, who had never been in the United States before, was impressed by the community value he saw in Mayville and by what Cooper has left behind to go and help in Romania.

"I will definitely appreciate her work even more now," Sestak said.

After being away for so long, even Cooper took some time to adjust to coming back.

"I looked in my closet and saw all my clothes. It was a little disgusting," she said.

To find our more about the HHC Romania program, visit, or email Sestak at

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